Carnival celebrations are popular all around the world, but when you travel on our Venice tours, you’ll find that the city puts its own unique spin on the event. For two weeks leading up to the start of Lent, the city bursts with merriment as revelers take to the streets wearing elaborate costumes. Italian Tour Director Linda is sharing all of her insider tips about what to expect when you travel on our Italy tours to attend Venice Carnival.Jump ahead to...
When is Carnival in Venice?
Venice Carnival 2024 will take place from January 27-February 13. If you missed your chance to sign up for our Venice tours that bring you to the city during this year’s Carnival, you’ll have another chance next year! The main events of the 2025 Venice Carnival will happen between February 22-March 4.
How long is Venice Carnival?
While the specific dates change from year to year, Venice Carnival always runs for the two weeks leading up to the start of Lent.
How can I attend Venice Carnival on tour?
Join one of our Venice tours that runs over Carnival to attend the historic festival. Check out three 2025 trips that will take you there.
- A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome. Book the February 20, 2025, departure of this trip—the sightseeing tour of Venice falls on the opening day of Carnival.
- Grand Tour of Italy. Sign up for the February 22, 2025, departure of this tour and you’ll be in Venice during Carnival’s first week.
- Venice, Florence & Rome for Solo Travelers. Join fellow solo travelers on the February 19, 2025, departure of this tour and you’ll get to experience all the city’s pre-Carnival festivities.
Why do Venetians celebrate Carnival?
“When we think of Venetian Carnival, we think of this unique event that is so different from all the other Carnivals—the ones in South America, America, the rest of Europe, South Africa—but back in the old days all of them originated in pretty much the same way,” said Tour Director Linda. “It was a joyful moment because it marked the passing from the dark, hard season of winter into a new season of rebirth.”
“In that joyful moment, even in the Roman times, everything was allowed (think: gambling or indulgence in food and drink), said Linda. ”Nowadays, it’s linked to religion. The Doge, who was the ruler of Venice, granted the right to participate in celebrations preceding Lent. Since Lent was a moment of restriction, this was the very last moment when everything was allowed.”
When did the tradition of Carnival begin?
Its heyday came in the 1700s, but Venice Carnival was first held in the 11th century and consisted of more than two months of revelry. These days, it’s the perfect excuse to wear a mask, parade around the city, and enjoy live music in the main squares while on a tour of Italy.
What do people wear to Carnival in Venice?
“When you think of Venetian Carnival, you think of masks,” said Linda. So, it makes sense that donning a colorful mask is part of the experience of attending Carnival in Venice. While on our Venice tours, you’ll see that grand costumes also take center stage. Here’s what to know about the masks and costumes that the revelers wear.
- Masks. Ornate masks were worn as a form of disguise since the early days of Carnival in Venice, allowing merrymakers to indulge in their vices before the Catholic season of Lent began. Today, wilder partygoers still enjoy the anonymity that these legendary masks bring. There are many styles of masks, from the medico della peste, based on the beaked mask that doctors wore to avoid contracting the plague, to the moretta, or black velvet half-masks.
Craftspeople have been creating these intricate masks for centuries, taking inspiration from classic Italian stage characters or coming up with imaginative decoration ideas. “The great thing about the modern world is if you can’t afford to buy the very expensive masks, you can still get a beautifully decorated one that is made with simpler materials,” said Linda. “They’re widely available throughout the city.”
- Costumes. “Contemporary Carnival costumes are elegant, colorful, intricate, and made from fine materials,” said Linda. “Modern Carnival is inspired by the fashion culture of the 18th century. Those Venetians were the most fashionable and these costumes reflect that.”
“It can cost between 150 and 500 euros per day to rent a costume. There’s a famous shop called Nicolao Atelier where people buy, rent, or have costumes custom-made. You’ll see these incredible costumes and the work that goes into crafting them when you walk down the streets of Venice during Carnival.”
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What to do at Venice Carnival
Free Carnival events take place not only on the streets—where you’d traditionally expect to find them—but also in the city’s canals and waterways. Each day, different musical shows, art displays, gala dinners, fireworks spectacles, and costume contests take place throughout Venice. While St. Mark’s Square is the central hub of celebration for partygoers, there are many different stages, locations, and restaurants throughout the city that play host to the festivities. Here are the ones you can’t miss when traveling on our Venice tours.
Attend the Festa delle Marie. “The Feast of Mary is an important event,” said Linda. “There’s a procession of people in historical costumes that leaves from San Pietro di Castello at 2:30pm and reaches Via Garibaldi, which is very close to St. Mark’s Square. Once in St. Mark’s Square, the 12 Venetian girls chosen to be part of the procession get on stage for a presentation to the public. Back in the old days, the ruling Doge gave the 12 Venetian maidens a dowry to get married. Nowadays, the event features a beauty contest with the proclamation of the Beautiful Mary of the Year.”
Look up to see the Svolo del Turco. “This event, called the Flight of the Angel, goes back to the 16th century when a young Turkish acrobat was able to reach the bell tower of St. Mark’s only using a barbell,” said Linda. “He walked on a rope tied to a boat, which was anchored in the pier in the nearby pizzette of St. Mark. When he passed by the balcony of the Doge, the ruler, he paid homage to him. That’s why this became an annual event.” It’s evolved over the years and since 2011, the girl who’s crowned the Beautiful Mary of the Year during the Feast of Mary gets to soar over St. Mark’s Square during the Flight of the Angel the following year.
Head to the Festival on the Water. “This festival is held on Rio di Cannaregio between two bridges: Ponte dei Tre Archi and Ponte delle Guglie,” said Linda. “Here, you see beautifully decorated boats that acrobats ride as music plays.” At night, the event feels even more theatrical, as acrobats perform atop floating stages under the glow of the Venetian moon.
Watch the opening day regatta. “A procession of boats decorated for the occasion starts at Punta della Dogana, passes through the Grand Canal, and reaches Ponte delle Guglie and Ponte dei Tre Archi in Cannaregio,” said Linda. “At the arrival, the feast starts. All the stands serving typical food products for Carnival open and offer their snacks and wine to the public. This is the real core of the beginning of the celebration.”
Splurge on a ticket to an exclusive party. “The masquerade ball is the top-of-the-line event, so you’re going to have to invest quite a bit of money if you want to go,” said Linda. “It takes place in a hotel or in one of the palaces along the canal. It’s a private event and you can book dinner and the ball for around 800 euro or just the ball for around 500 euro. You just have to check the official calendar to find out where the exclusive parties take place. Then, start preparing, as the balls have a strict dress code that requires you to wear a costume and mask.”
Visit a mask workshop. “Venetian masks were first created in 1268. The artisans who made masks were called mascareri and they had their own code of rules, which dates to April 1436,” said Linda. “The masks were and still are made of papier-mache. Different models are produced in a variety colors and feature gems, feathers, fabric, and ribbons.”
“The history of masks in Venice—the mystery, enigma, seduction—is all part of the enjoyment of Carnival. To learn about mask-making you need to go into a traditional workshop. Even if you don’t want to spend the money to buy a finely crafted mask, you have to see how they’re made. Kartaruga is one of the most famous mask workshops in Venice. They don’t simply produce masks for Carnival; they also make them for film and theater productions, like the movie Eyes Wide Shut.”
Close out the festivities with Svolo del Leon. The Carnival of Venice ends with the Svolo del Leon or the “Flight of the Lion,” in which a flag depicting a winged lion—the symbol of Venice—is flown to the top of the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square.
Top things to eat at Venice Carnival & where to try them
“Eating is an important element of Carnival,” said Linda. “Traditionally, people ate in excess because after Carnival they faced very hard religious restrictions. One of the main elements of Carnival in Italy is sweets.” Here are the tops ones to try while on our Venice tours.
Fritole. “This is a Venetian donut that’s only served at Carnival,” said Linda. “It’s a round, yeast-risen, deep-fried pastry. The dough is normally plain with raisins and pine nuts, but you can also fill them with custard or zabaglione cream. They are delicious and extremely sweet and rich.”
Galani. “These are fried dough strips sprinkled with lots of sugar,” said Linda. “In Venice they are called galani, but in Southern Italy and Milan, we call them chiacchiere. In Rome, they’re called frappe and in Tuscany, cenci. It has a million names, but it’s the same sweet.”
Pasticceria Rizzardini. “Venice is famous for being a very touristy destination, but it’s also a place where old establishments have survived and they’re fascinating to visit—just like museums,” said Linda. “The traditional pastry shops are some of the most interesting and Pasticceria Rizzardini is my favorite one. During Carnival I go there to buy fritole and galani. During the rest of the year I get Venetian biscotti, which is a wonderful delicacy you can try on a tour of Italy.”
What to drink at Venice Carnival
Wondering what to wash down those sweets with while indulging at Carnival on our Venice tours? Linda recommends these two Venice originals.
- Aperol spritz. “The spritz was the Austrian name given to a mix of wine and fizzy water,” said Linda. “This mix was later refined and the fizzy water was replaced with Select, which is a bitter aperitif liqueur produced in Venice. We got the Aperol from the people of Padua. This is probably the most well-known drink you can try on our Italy tours.”
- Bellini. “The Bellini was invented in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, who owned Harry’s Bar—the place where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out,” said Linda. “He named the drink Bellini because he saw a painting by the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini. In this painting, there was a saint wearing a toga that was a beautiful shade of pink, so he decided to make a pink drink. If you look at the ingredients of the drink, it’s white peach and prosecco—so there’s no way you can get any pink color. They added a drop of cherry or raspberry juice back then to get the perfect pink glow.”